Genotoxicity of amorphous silica particles with different structure and dimension in human and murine cell lines

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Although amorphous silica is used in food products, cosmetics and paints and as vector for drug delivery, data on its potential health hazard are limited. The aim of this study was to investigate the cytotoxic and genotoxic potential of silica particles of different sizes (250 and 500nm) and structures (dense and mesoporous). Dense silica (DS) spheres were prepared by sol–gel synthesis, mesoporous silica particles (MCM-41) were prepared using hexadecyltrimethyl ammonium bromide as a structure-directing agent and tetraethylorthosilicate as silica source. Particles were accurately characterised by dynamic light scattering, nitrogen adsorption, X-ray diffraction and field emission scanning electron microscopy. Murine macrophages (RAW264.7) and human epithelial lung (A549) cell lines were selected for investigation. Genotoxicity was evaluated by Comet assay and micronucleus test. Cytotoxicity was tested by the trypan blue method. Cells were treated with 0, 5, 10, 20, 40 and 80 µg/cm2 of different silica powders for 4 and 24 h. The intracellular localisation of silica was investigated by transmission electron microscopy. Amorphous particles penetrated into the cells, being compartmentalised within endocytic vacuoles. DS and MCM-41 particles induced cytotoxic and genotoxic effects in A549 and RAW264.7 although to different extent in the two cell lines. A549 were resistant in terms of cell viability, but showed a generalised induction of DNA strand breaks. RAW264.7 were susceptible to amorphous silica exposure, exhibiting both cytotoxic and genotoxic responses as DNA strand breaks and chromosomal alterations. The cytotoxic response of RAW264.7 was particularly relevant after MCM-41 exposure. The genotoxicity of amorphous silica highlights the need for a proper assessment of its potential hazard for human health.

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